Healing Power of Poetry By Jamie Walker

Healing Power of Poetry By Jamie Walker


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



The author Helen Tiffin once explained, “Decolonization is a process.” And I had

to decolonize myself (primarily on my own) at Howard University.

Like my ancestors who once survived the middle passage



Books by Jamie Walker

101 Ways Black Women Can Learn to Love Themselves: A Gift for Women of All Ages  /  Signifyin’ Me: New and Selected Poems

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The Healing Power of Poetry

(In Praise and Support of Amiri Baraka)

By Jamie Walker 


The first poem I ever read was a poem by Amiri Baraka. I was about eight years old when I first discovered his poem, “SOS,” in a book called The Black Poets  edited by Dudley Randall (founder of Broadside Press) on my mother’s bookshelf in Oakland, California. It was in this book that Amiri’s words rang loud and clear:                                                Calling all black people                                                Calling all black people, man woman child                                                Wherever you are, calling you, urgent, come in                                                Black People, come in, wherever you are, urgent calling                                                you, calling all black people                                                calling all black people, come in, black people, come                                                on in. Indeed, Amiri’s words touched and moved me deeply. I was so moved because I had not only discovered this incredible and powerful anthology of black poetry (amidst a whole slew of Stephen King and V.C. Andrews books on my mother’s bookshelf), but I was also moved that someone could write such a profound poem that was, essentially, calling all black people to come together to shape a united Black Consciousness, one rooted in Truth, or what the poet, Amiri Baraka, might term Black Sensibility. It was in this book that I also discovered the words of Sonia Sanchez; Nikki Giovanni (who wrote “Nigger Can You Kill”); Mari Evans; Margaret Walker; Gwendolyn Brooks; Don L. Lee; Carolyn Rodgers; and several other black poets.

These words became a safe haven for me. They served as validation for my own blackness and muted voice, which had been silenced after being subjected to years of childhood sexual abuse. As I grew older, I would carry this same book with me all the way to San Francisco State University where I eventually graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts. It was not only theater, however, that I immersed myself in at the university, it was also Black Studies. And, as we know, Black Studies was first started in this country at San Francisco State University when Jimmy Garrett and Nathan Hare, in the late 1960s, asked poet and female leader of the Black Arts Movement, Sonia Sanchez, to teach one of the first Black Studies courses in the nation. Later, Amiri Baraka (along with Ed Bullins, Marvin X, and several others) would join her, coming to S.F. State to teach, showcase, and produce his revolutionary black theater plays. What is quite ironic, however, is that nearly thirties years later (after these revolutionary black poets established Black Studies at the university, which, in turn, inspired Women Studies, Chicano Studies, and etc.), I, as an undergraduate, would eventually begin to suffer from an extreme depression. I was depressed not only because I was still in the process of healing the wounds of my abusive past, but also because I was tired of imitating what author, Frantz Fanon, might term colonizing Others on the stage (i.e. whites). While I knew that such playwrights like William Shakespeare and Moliére were legendary, influential, and entertaining, I still wanted and craved black voices; black theater; and “naturally black” beautiful poems (to quote Audre Lorde). But my professors were not able to offer such courses for lack of time and interest. As a result of such alienation and cultural ambivalence, as a result of what W.E.B. Du Bois might term “double consciousness,” I eventually became suicidal. Indeed, I traveled all the way to Howard University in Washington, D.C. to obtain a masters degree in African American and Caribbean Literature because I wanted to immerse myself back in the folklore, rich heritage, and writings of my own people. I wanted to surround myself in blackness, within a culture and historically black institution that could feed my hungry soul; one where legendary and influential black writers like David Walker; Maria W. Stewart; Angela Davis; Assata Shakur; Alice Walker; Toni Morrison; Maya Angelou; Amiri Baraka ; and Sonia Sanchez would help to validate my own blackness (especially in such a racist, sexist, and capitalist patriarchy that often teaches black people that we are invisible or, worse, inferior). I knew that by immersing myself within the rich writings of my own people, I would finally understand my true self-identity; learn to love myself unconditionally; and be encouraged to begin writing, sharing, and publishing my own books and poems. I’d be inspired finally to dispose of the mask that grins and lies, and “hides whatever faults we see.” The author Helen Tiffin once explained, “Decolonization is a process.” And I had to decolonize myself (primarily on my own) at Howard University. Like my ancestors who once survived the middle passage; were stripped from their own homeland; and colonized in a place called America, I had to unlearn everything about myself that was not true (through studying the literature of my own folk) so that I might eventually achieve wholeness and self-actualization.

I had to come three-hundred and sixty degrees, reading the works of all of those legendary and influential black poets and writers who had gone before me before I could eventually become a manifestation of the concept ‘know thyself’; before I could become a beautiful black poem walking tall and proud, speaking loud and clear. Were it not for such poets like Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Baraka who encouraged me to develop self-determination and, more importantly, provided me with a blueprint for my own writing, I truly do not believe that I would be who or what I am today.

Were it not for those writers who first inspired me to delve further into the poetry, I do not think that I’d be encouraged to continue speaking truth to the spiritual and cultural needs of the people; to ‘POET-ON’ (as Baraka might suggest) even in the midst of chaos and tragedy; even when colonizing Others like Governor James McGreevey’s attempt to silence our healing and prophetic voices, or to try to put a cap on the Truth that lives within each and every one of us; the Truth that always liberates and never dies.

Copyright 2003. All Rights Reserved.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 31 July 2010



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